Designer and builder of Central Trans-Andean Railway, the highest situated rail in the world for over 100 years
At the altitude of 4818 m, the railroad weaves its path from the desert coast of the Pacific, where Lima is located, to Andean snow – “a miracle of nineteenth century engineering”. It was designed, constructed under dramatic circumstances, as well as funded by a Pole. It is astounding, how this engineering genius, Ernest Malinowski, who died childless, has been forgotten, even though his image appeared on Lima’s monuments.
In the mid ‘90s of the twentieth century, I could not find the name of the creator of the Trans-Andean Railway in “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, “Larousse”, “Americana”. It did not figure in Peruvian travel guides. Representatives of local travel bureaus respond with surprise when I asked to be taken to the Ticlio pass (4818 m) – the highest point on “Malinowski’s railroad”.
– Ernest Malinowski, this Peruvian patriot? And what did he have in common with the rail? – they asked.
The railroad was meant to link the Pacific coast with the Amazon, from the port of Callao through the Andes, creating a communication route spanning both oceans and ensuring the fastest transport to the Atlantic. A contract for building the Trans-Andean Railway that survived in the archives, as its first point reads: “Ernest Malinowski, his descendants, executors of the will or authorised representatives, are obligated to build a section of the railway between Central Transandino Callao and Oroya according to the draft and plans made by the chief engineer Ernest Malinowski.”
Ernest Malinowski was born to a Polish noble family on January 5, 1818, at the latest in Różyczna in Podole (Podolia) or in Seweryny in Wołyń (Volhynia), now Ukraine, where he was baptized – in those parts of Poland, which after the partition of the country in the second half of the eighteenth century by its powerful neighbours: Russia, Prussia and Austria, were under Russian jurisdiction. Ernest, son of Jakub Malinowski, Ślepowron coat of arms and Anna Świeykowska, Trzaska coat of arms, grandson of the voivode, he grew up on the family estate. He studied in the renowned Krzemieniec High School, called the Athens of Wołyń. His father and older brother, Rudolf, took part in armed struggle for independence – in the November Uprising against the Russians, which broke out in the autumn of 1830. As punishment, the tsar confiscated the family estate. Malinowskis had to escape. Ernest, together with his father and Rudolf, went to Paris. His mother returned with the youngest son to Wołyń.
Ernest studied at the Ecole Polytechniquen. He completed the select Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees (School of Roads and Bridges), graduating with honours. He worked in the construction of bridges, roads, regulating rivers in France and Algeria. Many Poles sought shelter in France at the time, threatened with prison or Siberia for their participation in the attempts to liberate Poland (in 1863, another uprising broke out in the Russian partition – the January Uprising). Young, educated, deprived of their property for their patriotism by the partitioners, they were often seen as unwanted competition by the French. Peru was looking for engineers in Europe, tempting with attractive contracts. Many Poles went there. Ernest Malinowski followed in 1852. Seven years later, he presented the Peruvian authorities with a draft of the Trans-Andean Railway, which was deemed too ambitious. So Malinowski designed and supervised paving of streets and squares of Arequipa, railway lines: Pisco-Ica, Chimbote-Huaraz. He finally obtained acceptance for the work of his life.
When on January 1st, 1870 Lima was celebrating the placing of the cornerstone inaugurating the construction of the Trans-Andean Railway, no one had any doubt who was the author of the project. In the presence of the President of Peru, archbishop of Lima, members of the government, the diplomatic corps, generals, army, and a crowd of the capital’s residents, the mayor thanked Ernest Malinowski for a triple merit: for promoting the idea for the construction, for fighting for it and for “the triumph of its realization”. The word “triumph” was used prematurely. Not many of distinguished engineers believed in the success of the project. Building the railway required courage, will, skills, creativity, labour and money. The funds were provided for a certain time by American industrialist Henry Meiggs and… birds. Deposits of their excrement (guano) found on the rocky islands of the Pacific coast, proved to be highly sought after fertilizer in Europe. Proceeds from the export of this “gold” represented 80% of Peru’s gross national income.
During the preparation of the project, Malinowski asked to be let down on ropes into the precipice, and pulled over deep gorges in a suspended basket. In order to climb up the rails at 170 km from sea level to an altitude higher than Mont Blanc, he planned chiselling out niches in solid rock, digging tunnels and building bridges. In the Rimac river valley, 63 tunnels were carved out manually, including those twisting inside the mountain, with a total length of 6 km. Galera, the longest and highest (4768 m above sea level), measured 1117 m. Some 1500 mules were used for transportation. Often 10 animals a day would fall and perish in the gorges. Chinese, Italian and Chilean workers recruited for work and the international professionals hired, had to battle not only solid rock, gales, blizzards, fog and rockslides but also high altitude sickness, with its attendant insomnia, apathy, headaches and chronic fatigue.
Thirty bridges and overpasses were constructed. Each was a challenge. They were commissioned from the United States and France in Gustav Eiffel’s plant. They were iron, riveted. Ernest Malinowski exhibited extraordinary creativity, pioneer solutions, and organisational talent. For the assembly he hired sailors skilled in climbing ropes; Indians capable of using slingshots to throw ropes across precipices; an American engineer, who offered his experience working in construction over the Niagara. Each bridge has its own name, and their catalogue forms a chronicle of the railway’s construction. “El Infiernillo” means “Little Hell”. The highest one on the planet at the time, bears two names: “Verrugas” or “Puente Daniel Carrion”. It commemorates the tragic events linked to an outbreak of a mysterious illness, named “verruga”, which reached an epidemic. Nearly seven thousand people fell ill. In the coastal town of Paracas I saw a terrifying artefact. A hand had been placed in formaldehyde, covered in boils, marks of “verrugi”. At one point they bled profusely, and high fever brought death. No one knows what would have been the fate of the construction were it not for Daniel Alcides Carrion, medical student from the University of Lima. He invented a vaccine, which he tested on himself. He overdosed. He described the stages and symptoms of the disease till the end. He died, but thanks to these notes, his work could be completed and the epidemic contained.
An even greater destruction was sewn by a fever called “oroyic” (from the Oroya Station) where only one in a hundred survived.
The building of the Trans-Andean Railway was watched and written about in publications across almost the entire word. It was called “a miracle of technology”, stunning with the power of the human mind, capable of taming wild nature. In Peru, residents of one of the mountain provinces wanted to build a monument in gratitude… to the president, who consented to the railway’s construction.
After eight years, the first section of 141 km was opened, reaching 4100 m above sea level. The railway became a tourist attraction. Its stations had sleeping accommodation, shops, restaurants, bars with piano and snooker, and where possible, tennis courts and cricket. It was an invaluable means of transportation for the copper, zinc, lead and silver mines located on high altitudes. The discovery of artificial fertilizers in Europe, financial crisis, the political turmoil of a young country, caused the Peruvian government to suspend the grants. The last fragment of the first section, Henry Meiggs and Ernest Malinowski financed out of their own pocket. The highest part –Ticlio Pass (4818 m) and the site of Oroya (3726 m) was reached only 23 years after the ceremony of placing the cornerstone in Lima. The death of Meiggs, the devastating war in Chile, Malinowski’s forced emigration to Ecuador (he began the construction of Quito-Guayaquil railway line there), was the reason why the restoration and further construction of the damaged Trans-Andean Railway began only in 1890. Ernest Malinowski, supervising the work, was then 72 years old! At the beginning 1893, the train stopped at the 218th km, at the Oroya station.
Six years later, on March 2nd, after 41 years of work for its new homeland, the brilliant engineer died of a heart attack. This handsome erudite, who spoke many languages and of wide connections, the darling of salons, himself a wonderful host, did not start a family. He was buried in Lima. His life’s work was continued in the first half of the twentieth century, up to the 346 km route ending in Hunacayo. It was forgotten who was the creator of the railway.
– In Peru, indeed, very little is said about Malinowski – the Polish Ambassador in Lima, Wojciech Tomaszewski, said in 1996. – If there is a reference to the Trans-Andean Railway, it is always in the context of the name Henry Meiggs, who was responsible for the funding. His heirs continue his legacy to this day. There is a Meiggs school, street, bridge… and what about Malinowski? Polish institutions fund ed a plaque in Callayo, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary on the May 2 successful battle against the Spanish for the independence of Peru. In 1866, Malinowski fortified in the Real Felipe fortress, he well prepared it for battle and took part in defending the port. He risked his life, but nothing less was expected of him.
The Peruvians awarded the Pole the Medal of Courage, as a national hero. Before he was named “the head engineer of Peru”, he was granted honorary citizenship. In his lifetime, his image was placed on one of the reliefs on a monument dedicated to the battle of Callao, which stands in Lima in the Plaza Dos de Mayo Square.
In May 1996, I rode on a highway along a rusting Trans-Andean Railway. Only in fragments were used for the mines. The coach, with participants in a trip, which I helped organize under the aegis of the Polish Chapter of The Explorers Club, following the footsteps of Polish discoverers of Peru, climbed along the deep canyon of the Rimac river. We passed by abandoned, once elegant stations. At the Ticlio Pass we searched in vain for a trace of the name of the Trans-Andean Railway’s creator. It was then, that Elżbieta Dzikowska, journalist, film director and member of the Club, disturbed by this omission, exclaimed:
– A monument to Ernest Malinowski should stand here! Thanks to Dzikowska’s persistent efforts, the Association of Communication Engineers and Technicians, the cooperation of the Peruvian government and many people, a monument made from 70 tonnes of Strzegom granite was place in July 1999 on Ticlio Pass. The inscription in Polish and Spanish reads: “Ernest Malinowski 1818-1899. Polish engineer, Peruvian patriot, and hero of the 1866 battle for Callayo, builder of the Central Trans-Andean Railway.
– It was important for me that the monument did not harm the space, the raw nature, and troubled sky – explained the creator of the monument, Polish sculptor, Gustaw Zemła phD. – It should fit into the culture of stone architectural and Inca sculpture. I crowned it with a wheel symbolizing movement, like the one Malinowski “rolled up” the mountain. It resembles a solar gate that has slipped down, to create the station at Ticlio. Malinowski deserved to have a stone brought from his homeland, since he himself could not return to Poland.
The construction of the monument on the Ticlio Pass initiated the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ernest Malinowski’s death. A replica of the image from the monument was also placed in the lobby of Desamparados Railway Station in Lima.
The National Bank of Poland issued coins with a portrait of Malinowski. The Banco Central de Reserva del Peru also issued a silver coin commemorating Ernest Malinowski. The Polish Post and Peruvian Post issued a stamp designed by Jacek Konarzewski.
The then president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, established the Committee of the Centenary of the Death of Ernest Malinowski, which called for the introduction of the Polish engineer to history textbooks. Danuta Bartkowiak’s monograph on Erneście Malinowski has been published in Spanish.
The express train from Warsaw to Krynica was given the name “Ernest Malinowski” (it ran until 2009). Currently, they are worn by a train running on the Warsaw-Zakopane route, as well as a street in Warsaw, a bridge in Toruń and a school in Białystok.
Banco Central de Reserva del Peru produced a silver coin commemorating Ernest Malinowski. The then president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, appointed the Committee for the 100th Anniversary of the Death of Ernest Malinowski, which called for entering the name of the Polish engineer in history textbooks. A monograph by Danuta Barkowiak on Ernest Malinowski was issued in Spanish.
Bartkowiak D., „Ernest Malinowski, konstruktor kolei transandyjskiej”, Poznań 1996.
Nierzwicka M. oprac., „Ernest Malinowski : konstruktor kolei w Andach Peruwiańskich: w 200. rocznicę urodzin twórcy Centralnej Kolei Transandyjskiej”, katalog wystawy, Toruń 2018.
Starowicz S. red., „Inżynierowi Ernestowi Malinowskiemu w setną rocznicę śmierci”, Zeszyty Naukowo-Techniczne Oddziału Stowarzyszenia Inżynierów i Techników Komunikacji w Krakowie, Monografia [t.] 4, Kraków 1999.
Słabczyński W., „Polscy podróżnicy i odkrywcy”, Warszawa 1988.